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All That We Say Is Ours

Cover of All That We Say Is Ours

All That We Say Is Ours

by Ian Gill
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Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, is the Galapagos of the north. Famous for their wild beauty, the islands are also the ancient homeland of the Haida Nation. Integral to Haida culture is the relationship to the land, and the Haidas have spent many years trying to protect and recover control of it. Under the leadership of Giindajin Haawasti Guujaaw, the visionary artist, drummer, and orator, the Haida blockaded loggers, joined forces with environmentalists, lobbied political leaders, and in 2004 filed suit against the Canadian government, laying claim to their entire traditional territory. Ian Gill captures the excitement of the Haida struggle and their passion for their culture. He also reveals the making of an artist and political activist: Guujaaw’s audacity, eloquence, tactical skills, and deep knowledge of his homeland place him at the heart of this riveting story, and this book reveals his extraordinary role in it.
Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, is the Galapagos of the north. Famous for their wild beauty, the islands are also the ancient homeland of the Haida Nation. Integral to Haida culture is the relationship to the land, and the Haidas have spent many years trying to protect and recover control of it. Under the leadership of Giindajin Haawasti Guujaaw, the visionary artist, drummer, and orator, the Haida blockaded loggers, joined forces with environmentalists, lobbied political leaders, and in 2004 filed suit against the Canadian government, laying claim to their entire traditional territory. Ian Gill captures the excitement of the Haida struggle and their passion for their culture. He also reveals the making of an artist and political activist: Guujaaw’s audacity, eloquence, tactical skills, and deep knowledge of his homeland place him at the heart of this riveting story, and this book reveals his extraordinary role in it.
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    From Chapter 7, They Say

    The elders. On a cold miserable grey day, they had come — Ethel Jones, Watson Pryce, Ada Yovanovich, Adolphus Marks, then in their 60s and 70s, faces etched with the experiences of a century that had been cruel to their people and their land — stepping slightly unsteadily out of the helicopter and, in their own quiet way, taking charge of the blockade. “Blockades are interesting," writes Ted Chamberlin in If This is Your Land, Where are Your Stories? “They function like the threshold of a church, or the beginning of a story; and they need to be acknowledged if proper respect is to be paid to those for whom the place is sacred or appropriate contempt shown to those who are polluting it." In coming to Athlii Gwaii, to the threshold of the blockade that the Haida had constructed, the elders consecrated their protest. Guujaaw had spent his youth learning from the elders, recognizing their authority, and most of all, listening. In turn, as Guujaaw and an increasing number of younger Haida had put protection of the land on the top of the political agenda on Haida Gwaii, the elders had listened — and by coming to the blockade, they were recognizing Guujaaw, Miles and the other young leaders, and validating their stand. Miles Richardson: “They basically told us, we've heard what you have to say. We've been silent about this most of our lives. We've wanted to make this stand, and today" — Richardson fights back tears when he recalls what the elders said that day — “and today, we ask you to respect that." The elders came to assert their right not just to support the blockade, but to become its front line — to take charge of the rituals and administer the sacrament. The warriors were asked to melt away to the sidelines, to quiet their bravado in favor of the gentle but persuasive voices of the elders.

    Film footage from the blockade captures their determination. Ethel Jones says: “This is our land and you know, we definitely aren't afraid of going to jail. Maybe that'll open our government's eyes. Look at this little old lady sitting in jail. For what? For protecting their land? We've slept long enough."

    Ada Yovanovich: “We're here to protect our land, and if that's a crime, I'm willing to go ... I'm over 60. It doesn't really matter as long as I have some fancywork to do. No, I don't mind at all."

    Adolphus Mark: “Well I'm here to support my younger generation that's here now. And we have good reason to be here. When you ride around and you see the mountains all gone, all the trees stripped clean and it's not only for us, but for white man's generation to come, too. What are they going to make money from when you've stripped the islands?" And in an echo of his ancestors seventy years earlier in front of the McKenna-McBride Commission, Aldophus Marks says, “We're protecting our island. It's our island, before white man come only 200 years ago. And how come the government want to make a claim on it, I want to know if the government made this island, or the good Lord? I'd like an answer to that ... Did the government make this island, now they claim it? We're fighting for our rights ... the government didn't make this island, no way."

    As Guujaaw puts it, “The elders clearly represented our linkage to all our history. These are people who had a lot of living behind them and were not just a radical fringe element going out to raise heck with the government for the sake of doing that." Diane Brown is Ada Yovanovich's daughter and is related to Guujaaw via an adopted mother, who was Guujaaw's grandmother's sister. She was one of the few...

About the Author-
  • Ian Gill is president of Ecotrust Canada, a non-profit organization that combines conservation with community economic development. He is also an award-winning documentary reporter and the author of Hiking on the Edge and Haida Gwaii: Journeys through the Queen Charlotte Islands. Ian Gill lives in Vancouver, BC.
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All That We Say Is Ours
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